Social Justice and the Bible

Recent comments by Glenn Beck have sparked a firestorm of posts across the blogsphere regarding Social Justice.  I would like to take some time to talk about what the Bible actually says.

First, I want to look at Luther’s own writing.  Luther, writing on the Fifth Commandment in the Small Catechism states,

We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all of life’s needs. (Emphasis mine.)

With that in mind, I turn to the Bible, first to the Epistle of James,

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God,m the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27)

The note in The Lutheran Study Bible says this regarding James 1:27,

Genuine righteousness seeks to serve others.   Orphans and widows deeply need such help, and they were particularly singled out for God’s care and the service of his people.  (Emphasis mine)

Three groups of individuals were singled out by God in the Old Testament as needing care: the orphan, the widow, and the sojourner.  Lets take a look at the second sentence of the note: “they were particularly singled out for God’s care.”

For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.  He [God] executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.  Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19, Emphasis mine)

This is but one example showing these groups were singled out by God…and what’s more, God executes justice for them.

Moving on to the second part of the phrase from the study note, “and the service of his people.”

And the Levite, because he has no portion or inheritance with you, and the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, who are within your towns, shall come and eat and be filled, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands that you do. (Deuteronomy 14:29, Emphasis mine)

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.  When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.  When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.  You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this.  (Deuteronomy 24:19-22)

Now, you might be thinking, “Wait, Craig. That’s all Old Testament stuff. That’s the Law. We live under Grace.”  Christ said,

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  (Matthew 5: 17-18)

Yes, we live under grace, but the Law has not been abolished.  Christ even summed up the Law in this way,

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  (Matthew 22: 37-40)

I’ve already posted and reposted on who are neighbor is, so I won’t do it again.  But, it seems pretty clear to me that the mandate to take care of those people on the margins still applies today.

It also seems to me, that this is exactly what the prophet Amos was prophesying against, failing to do justice.


2 thoughts on “Social Justice and the Bible

  1. I really struggle with this these days. As a Christian, I agree that we are called to love people. That means to show respect, care and concern for them. I love to give when I know I am really helping someone who truly needs help. Someone who has run into a little trouble and just needs a hand. However, we are not called to be taken advantage of and I am guessing that may be where Beck is going.

    Example: I know a nurse. She said that she had a patient with a very expensive handbag come in and receive Medicare/Medicaid. Does that seem right? Why is my hard earned money being handed to this lady? If she didn’t waste her money on things that aren’t a necessity,she would have money to pay for her own healthcare.

    My frustration these days is that I don’t know anymore who truly needs help. So many people are living high off of someone else’s hard earned money that it is sad. I don’t work hard all day so that someone can sit on their butt and not even look for work. It’s amazing the people who say “Why should I work when the govt is going to keep giving me money?” Where is the self respect in that? It seems that the majority of people who need “help” these days think they deserve this money. If this person had to go to their neighbor’s house and get the money directly from them, they might think twice. People are disillusioned that the money the govt has magically appears. It doesn’t. It comes from your parents, friends, neighbors and co-workers who work just as hard as you. It is just disguised as money from the friendly, caring government. If the govt really cared, they would stop enabling people, put in tighter rules and let the bad seeds fall on their face. Why should we support their destructive habits? The good people (those who really want to work, mean well, and want to get out of their situation) could then rise to the top and really receive the help they need.

    I wish there was a way to weed out those good people who really just need an extra hand from those who are trying to abuse the system. Unfortunately, the good people are thrown in the with the abusers and quite frankly it makes me not want to help at all anymore which is sad.

    The Bible tells us to not throw our pearls before swine. One way to interpret that would be that we shouldn’t waste our money on people who are not respecting of us. We always hear of the respect for those in poverty. Well what about respect for those who keep donating money? Those who need money should show the donators a little respect by using the money for necessities not luxuries.

    I know it sounds harsh but this whole “poor me” routine of the abusers is really frustrating.


  2. Very simply, we are called as individuals to be just and fair to those less fortunate without question. What Glenn Beck and others object to is the political use of “social justice” to advance a collectivist agenda that makes the government an agent of forced wealth redistribution. It is the political philosophy that is in question, not the moral obligation to help the needy. “Social justice” implies that the poor are poor because of the external system, and that the solution is a government run program to correct the system. Social Justice defined this way undercuts the personal responsibilities of both the poor and the wealthy.

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